Friday, July 24, 2009

John Woo interview, from 1992 Sundance Film Festival

In the early 1990s, a good friend of mine, Scott Bowles, turned me on to Hong Kong movies. Very quickly, I craved all I could get from director John Woo and one of his favorite stars, Chow Yun-Fat – at that time, neither were known to any American fans outside a handful of people. To see their bootlegged films – that was the only way to see them at that time, since nothing had yet been officially released on tape for the U.S. market – was always flat-out thrilling.

Then I got lucky, and Woo’s “Hard-Boiled” played a midnight slot at Sundance in 1992. I had seen it, bootlegged, of course, but it was great fun to watch in Park City’s little Egyptian Theater. Best of all, Woo was on hand to introduce it. The joint rocked.

I snagged an interview with Woo the next day. We spoke upstairs at “Z” Place, a nightclub that, during the festival, served as the hospitality suite for filmmakers and journalists. It should also be noted that Woo was probably the only guy in Park City wearing a sport jacket and tie -- he seemed to take all of it very seriously, and wasn’t dressing down to impress the off-Hollywood crowd. The actual newspaper piece I wrote is still stuffed somewhere in a box, but the verbatim transcript of the Q&A was on my hard drive. Woo had recently moved to the United States – he and his wife had had an anchor baby here years before – and he had not been shy about saying he was coming due to the impending communist Chinese takeover of Hong Kong in 1997. He had been an outspoken critic of the totalitarian government, and he was a Christian, and he suspected both of those things would make it difficult for him to work after the British relinquished control in ’97. His English was OK, but still a little rough; I’ve preserved it to give you a flavor of the interviewed as it happened.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


(Review first appeared in the April issue of the Ogden Independent.)

In the 1940s and ’50s, they made movies the equal of “Duplicity” all the time: sparkling dialogue, crackerjack plotting, memorable acting. But it’s been so long, maybe the biggest surprise “Duplicity” offers is that a film this good can still make it through the Hollywood meatgrinder and emerge intact.

The movie’s plot is too dizzyingly complex to describe is this space. Just know this: One consumer-products company hopes to steal a secret formula for a lotion – or is it a cream? For the purpose of this story, that’s an important distinction – from the other, and is willing to spend whatever it takes – think: AIG bonus money – in order to make it happen.

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen play ex-government spies-turned-corporate-black-baggers. Their respective dark-ops teams have the task of making the theft happen, preventing it … or not. Right up to the end, we’re not really certain.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Nora Ephron, 1992

With “Julie & Julia” set to open sometime soon, I thought it might be fun to go back to 1992 and writer-director Nora Ephron’s first directorial effort, “This is My Life,” which opened the Sundance Film Festival that year. In anticipation of the festival’s opening night, I interviewed the filmmaker via telephone – she was in New York City.

I have to add that talking to her on the phone was like watching one of her movies: delightful. She’s just a great interview, couldn’t have been more relaxed and generous; it doesn’t hurt that she was a journalist, and apparently that she’s just a good human being, too, from all indications.

Anyway, here’s a transcript of most of the phoner.


NE: “Well, I think one of the reasons I wanted to direct, finally, is that it's unbelievably hard to get a movie made if it's about a woman. Because you see what happens is you write a script and then you have to get someone to direct it. And the most amazing thing about this is that what happens is you go into your agent's office and he says to his assistant, ‘Bring in the directors list.' And the assistant brings in the directors' list and it is A PIECE OF PAPER. It's not even that big a piece of paper -- well, it's 8x14, but it's not FULL. And on it is a list of, I'd say, 80 or 90 names. Out of which, never mind how many are women -- although more this year than last year -- but the point is, out of which you can rule out 90 percent of the people on the list because they don't make movies about women. Or they don't make comedies. So you're left with 10 names, let's say. And some of those names are people we'd all love to make a movie with, but GET IN LINE. Sydney Pollack makes movies about women ...”

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Kafka," Steven Soderbergh, Jeremy Irons and Sundance: The press conference

I covered the Sundance Film Festival from 1986-1996. I attended hundreds of screenings, conducted a lot of interviews and attended plenty of press conferences.

Since a big story of the past week out of Hollywood has been the way Steven Soderbergh’s “Moneyball” was canceled just days before it was to begin shooting, I thought I’d publish the transcript of a press conference he and star Jeremy Irons gave in January 1992 to promote “Kafka.” The story I wrote from it is tucked away in a box somewhere, and maybe I’ll republish that someday. I think this was Soderbergh’s sophomore effort after having such a smash with “sex, lies and videotape.” (That’s another Sundance story, with Soderbergh taking to the mic prior to a screening of “slv” and lecturing the Sundance folks on how to improve the acoustics in Park City’s Egyptian Theatre.)

Here you go:

JEREMY IRONS: "When I arrived in Prague, Steven was very keen that I should see an astounding set that had been built -- the main office set, which had something like a thousand typewriters and a thousand desks and a thousand chairs, or something like that; it was incredible. I was still a bit jet-lagged, and he said to me, ‘That's your desk there.' And I said, ‘Great.' And I went and sat in it, trying to impress him that I'm preparing myself.

"And I said, ‘It's very nice, good.' And he said, ‘When you get promoted, you go into that office there. And I said, ‘Thank you very much,' and I went into that office and I sat in my new desk, and imagined having been promoted and looked at the typewriter and on the typewriter there was some paper and ... it said: ‘Working with a second-time director, eh? That's a touch risky. Signed, One Who Knows.'

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Slumdog Millionaire"

(Originally published in the March 2009 Ogden Independent)

by Don Porter
Film artists like Danny Boyle, director of the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” are a comparative rarity in world cinema. They make, with remarkable consistency, idiosyncratic films that manage to attract wide audiences. For those who know much about film and the motion picture business, this is a remarkable accomplishment.

That Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” has achieved the pinnacle of recognition with its Oscar nomination and victory finally takes the filmmaker over that last bit of uncovered commercial ground: the kind of attention and praise marketing budgets can’t possibly purchase.

Described simply, “Slumdog Millionaire” is the story of Jamal, child of the Mumbai slums, who is competing on the Indian-TV version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” He’s doing remarkably well on the game show, which seems improbable to the host and producers, who assume he’s cheating. The film flashes back to reveal Jamal’s life story, and the series of sometimes unwatchable graphic events that constitute his education.